Godspeed: Place

“There’s no place on this earth without the potential for unearthing holiness.” –Eugene Peterson

This Godspeed concept challenges us to live at “Godspeed” – a way of life that puts us in the place to be face to face with God and with each other. And ever since our human parents were infected with sin, we as a human race have been hiding from God and yet, in the depths of our hearts, desiring to know where we can find God.

This tension is found in John 4:19-26. Jesus is in the middle of an exchange with a woman who had been running, hiding through a maze of relationships, an outcast who was seeking water from a well in the middle of the day. Jesus has just had a very direct conversation about her personal life. Jesus in essence is saying, “where are you in your life right now?”

Ironically, the woman shifts the awkward personal conversation to the hot topic of the day– which location is the place where God is to be found? I think the original hearers would see the humor in this. She’s staring the God son in the face… proposing where he can is found.

And of course Jesus gets right to the point: God is not in Rome or Mecca. Not in the places where you think you must go to find God, Jesus said. “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth” (4:24).

I’ll never forget a moment 5 years ago when in the middle of the week, a couple came into our sanctuary and was right here on the stairs weeping, full bodied grief and they were desperate. They were pleading with God to take care of their baby girl, just months old, who passed away in her sleep the night before. They were stricken with overwhelming grief and even though they weren’t people of faith, they sought the only place they could think of to find God. This place. And they met God here through the people of this church.

But was more profound was that the concept of where God was found (here in sanctuary) was changed when I shared that I was actually standing outside their home the night before. As it so happened, I was helping my brother move and his home was down the street. I had heard the wailing and went over, praying in their front yard. I had unknowingly been part of God’s bringing many people to them over that awful time. God was present, God was moving toward them. Not only in a sanctuary but their home. You see Jesus is revealing the way of Holy Spirit as fundamental about this sanctuary as it is everywhere else:

Jesus redeems the idea of Place not by making it insignificant but by making all places significant because of the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus is here. Spirt is here. In fact, part of the point of Jesus’ mission, to bring the life of heaven to birth on earth, was that from now on holy mountains wouldn’t matter that much. The Holy places wouldn’t have a monopoly on the encounter with God.

For Reflection:
– Do you have any “sacred” places in your life? What makes them so special?
– Can you envision the place you are right now as a sacred place? What would have to change to make it seem sacred?
– This week in prayer, each day make yourself fully available to God, like Isaiah did, and pray: “Here I am, Lord.” Journal about your experience.

This week’s post comes straight from UPPC senior pastor, Aaron Stewart.

The concept of “Godspeed” is inspired and informed by the work of Matt and Julie Canlis in their documentary film and study sessions. Learn more at http://www.livegodspeed.org

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The Manger Is the Message

In Philippians 2:6-7, we read about the second person of the divine Trinity, the Son of God, “making himself nothing.” What does Paul mean? The theological term for this is kenosis which essentially means “emptying.” But it doesn’t mean Jesus was no longer divine, but rather that Jesus refused to take advantage of his divinity as he lived out his human life. He fully entered the brokenness of humanity — the brokenness we do and don’t create ourselves.

Jesus was born into an ethnic minority that had experienced the ravages of persecution and genocide throughout the generations. Jesus reveals a God who identifies with refugees, the poor, and the underprivileged. If you’ve ever had a personal experience of a truly impoverished person, you’re not likely to forget it. Pastor Aaron shared a story of meeting a boy named Pedro in Mexico who had only two things to his name: one square of toilet paper a day, and a tattered toy bear. That was it. Something runs deep within each of us that screams “This just isn’t right.” Not because the goal of life is to have more stuff. But because of the injustice of a child living without the essentials of a healthy life. And Jesus himself claimed to be Pedro’s servant by taking Pedro’s form.

In Luke 4:17-21, Jesus himself recalled the words of Isaiah, who described the purpose of the Messiah. And as followers of the Messiah, we the Church have not only a lot of work to do, but a clear manner in which to do it: with humility. Thomas Merton wrote: “Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire about whether or not they are worthy.”

As we move into 2019, consider the impact of not only bringing the good message of Jesus to the broken world, but embodying that message in the same way Jesus did: with humility.

For Reflection:
– What would it look like for you to take a step toward serving your community with more humility that you did last year?
– What might be holding you back from serving more humbly? Money? Time? Fear? Consider bringing those obstacles honestly to God in prayer.
– If you live in the UPPC community, consider new upcoming opportunities to serve.  Visit UPPC.org > Serve

Rewriting the Tape

We are caught between two stories. One tells us what we are supposed to be. The other tells us what we are. One tells us what is possible if we try. The other tells us what is possible in spite of our failures. One tells us what Christmas can be. The other tells us what Christmas is. Which story will you be a part of?

Theologian Karl Barth was once asked by a student to articulate the most important of all Christian doctrines. He answered in six words: “Jesus loves me, this I know.” Despite so many things we think we might need, especially during the holidays, the most pressing need of the human experience is to understand the meaning of these six words. Why?

Each of us has a sort of “tape recorder” that plays in our minds (okay younger readers, a DVR). It repeats basic messages, usually about who we are. And they’re usually discouraging. It says things like “You’re not good enough.” “You’re too (insert any physical feature here like thin, fat, hairy, etc.)” “You’re just average.” “You’ll never find someone who loves you.” And so on.

The gospel (“good news”) of Jesus also repeats a message about who we are. It’s a simple, down-to-earth message. Its simplicity might actually be why so many people miss it. But it has been on repeat since the first Christmas, but each new generation has to discover its meaning. The message is: In Jesus, you are a child of God.

Understanding our identity as children of God has nothing to do with our efforts or achievements. It has nothing to do with anything that might bolster our self-esteem. Jesus did not come to give us better self-esteem; Jesus came to share with us “God-esteem.” In Pastor Aaron’s words: “Jesus came to empower us with all the rights, blessings, and responsibilities of what it means to be God’s children and to transform us from fear-based life to a confident, love-filled life. This is our new identity.” Never forget the sequence of events. First, God so loved the world. Then God gave his Son.

Rather than reflection questions today, I’d like to offer the four one-line prayers we prayed today, and invite you to pray these prayers throughout the Christmas season:
– Lord, rewind the tape in my mind and rewrite the message I hear.
– Lord, renew my mind that I may believe in your esteem for me.
– Lord, soften my heart that I may feel your embrace and acceptance.
– Lord, ready my hands that they may respond with love to others.

Merry Christmas,
MM

A Baby Changes Everything

Emmanuel — God with us.

In Jesus Christ, God chose to dwell with us in the most ordinary way. What does this mean? At the very least, it means you do not have to earn God’s attention. God is seeking and pursuing you.

God’s pursuit of humanity came in the form of a baby, and as the song says, “A Baby Changes Everything.” Anyone who has ever had a baby knows that is true in so many ways. But in the case of this baby, the Christ-child, everything that matters most to us and to the world is changed.

Or…it isn’t. But it can’t be both. The fact is that we get to make our own decision about whether or not Jesus changed everything. If God did not choose to become flesh, if the baby Jesus doesn’t change everything, then the world and the universe in which it resides is a cold and empty place. The task defining life’s meaning falls to us. The burden of judging and forgiving sin falls to us. The burden of saving the world falls to us. Are we up to the task?

But if God does dwell with us, first in the Christ-child, then by the Holy Spirit, the everything that matters most is changed. It’s changed forever. It’s changed for good, and for the good, and for everyone.

For reflection:
1) Did the baby Jesus change “everything?” What part of “everything” do you see that Jesus changed, and what part of “everything” do you feel has remained the same as always?
2) Does it change how you might relate to God to realize that God is first pursuing you, rather than the other way around?

A blessed Christmas,
MM

Down to Earth: Flesh Comes Down

I’ve noticed a disconnect in our midst.  Pretty much everything I’ve read and everyone I’ve talked to bemoans the divisiveness in our culture these days.  No one seems to be celebrating it.  But on the other hand, most people seem to also agree that the divisions are increasing, not decreasing.  So, why the disconnect? 

One possible reason is because of all of the talking.  Beyond interpersonal dialogue, the internet has become a free-for-all of anyone’s ideas about anything.  So much talk that can lead us to create our identities around ideas, rather than actual issues.  And these “identity-based ideologies” are “by the far the more potent predictor of social distance.”*

In his brief letter to the Philippians, Paul is writing  to a church struggling with divisiveness, and he offers one of the most theologically and poetically rich passages about Jesus in all of scripture, and maybe in all Christian literature.  In only 3 verses, Paul describes the lengths to which God went to surpass mere talk of love and instead show his love to us in the flesh.

In Jesus, God is present in the flesh. 
Jesus’ birth in the manger is much more than just the arrival of a great prophet or teacher.  And Paul describes God’s presence in Jesus in two distinct ways.

1) In Jesus, God is present in the flesh as God.  
Jesus “very nature” is God, and he shares “equality” with God.  Paul begins this way because if we miss Jesus’ divinity, we miss the miracle of Jesus’ birth in the flesh.  It is precisely because Jesus’ very nature is divine that his birth fulfills the promise of Isaiah, that God would dwell with us.  Jesus’ birth as God among us fulfills the deepest human longing to be near the Creator.

2) In Jesus, God is present in the flesh as human.
God’s choice to be human does not empty him of his divinity.  The phrase in the NIV “made himself nothing” can be misleading.  The Greek verb kenoō denotes an emptying but is used figuratively to connote a neutralization of effect, or an emptying of significance.  So Jesus did not relinquish his equality with God, but rather chose to lay his divine power aside in his life in the flesh.  N.T. Wright puts it this way: “The decision to become human, and to go all the way along the road of obedience — this decision was not a decision to stop being divine. It was a decision about what it really meant to be divine,” which is to offer self-sacrificial love.**

Jesus’ human life reveals what it means to be divine, and also what it means to be human.  It is to be God’s image-bearers, capable of loving our communities as God loves — in the flesh.  

Faith in Action: 
1) What is one practical step you could take this Christmas season to embody God’s loving kindness in person?  Who needs to hear in your voice or see in your face God’s down-to-earth love?
2) Maybe even more challenging — from whom are you longing to experience that in-person kindness?  Is there someone who should know that you need to reconnect, even reconcile with them? 

Many blessings this Advent,
MM   

*”Why Has America Become So Divided?” Psychology Today, 9/5/18.
**N.T. Wright, NT for Everyone, Philippians 2:6-8.

Three Little Words

Colossians 4:18

Though he was in chains under house arrest, Paul was able to send letters encouraging and guiding people as they sought to live out their new lives as Jesus’ people.  Given the slow and expensive mode of communication available to Paul, it’s likely that he chose his words carefully, wanting us to forever know that God’s subversive kingdom is fulfilled through people empowered by grace.

Paul made his greeting personal with his own autograph.  Before the time of email and texts, people hand wrote letters to each other.  Paul’s handwritten autograph showed people that he was a real human being, just like they were, whose teaching was informed by a real experience of the living God.

Paul chose a single image of himself to leave with the Colossians — “Remember my chains.”  In a time of slow and expensive communication, why would Paul choose that image?  If you had only three little words to describe yourself, which three words would you choose?  Why was this image so important for Paul to give them?

Perhaps it is the image that demonstrates one of Paul’s most consistent themes throughout all of his letters — Grace.  How could Paul share the gospel while under arrest?  How could people come to know Jesus in a contrary dominant culture?  How is the message of unconditional grace and mercy in Jesus supposed to permeate today’s often cynical and sometimes even hostile culture?  Not by rules or laws.  Not by wealth or prestige.  And most definitely not by earthy power.  But in the same way as it always has.  In the words of the prophet Zechariah: “‘Not by might nor power, but by my Spirit’ says the Lord.” (Zech. 4:6)

For reflection:

  1. God works through people.  Have you ever had an experience of God through another person?  What if God is calling you to be that experience for someone else?
  2. If you had only three words to describe yourself, which three would you choose, and why?
  3. What kinds of restraints (“chains”) are you experiencing today?  What about someone you know?  God’s grace transcended Paul’s restraints … do you believe it can transcend yours?

Many blessings,

MM

 

 

 

Prayerful, Salty, and Growing

Colossians 4:2-6

Sometimes life goes the way we plan. Many times it doesn’t. But Paul’s circumstances never made him deviate from his life purpose–to proclaim the good news of God’s kingdom. Here, he continues to move from his description of God’s kingdom and its implications for our lives, to how we can join in proclaiming God’s kingdom to the world.

Paul talks about prayer three times in this short passage.  Prayer is the most effective aspect of the proclamation of the gospel.  Prayer properly puts us in the posture of submission to God’s will for how the gospel will be shared in the world.  Moreover, when we’re aligned with Jesus, the Holy Spirit empowers us to be the proclaimers that we are commissioned to be as God’s people.

Paul also uses “saltiness” as an analogy for how to share the good news of God’s kingdom.  Now, sometimes people are described as “salty” when they’re bitter or grumpy, usually about something they’re upset about (like the Dodgers losing in the 10th inning to the Mariners because of a walk-off balk!)  But here, Paul uses the analogy to describe how the people of God add something pleasing to the broader culture; something desirable to taste, making it easier to ingest the spiritual food which will ultimately nourish them.

Finally, Paul reminds the early church to not let their life-situation deter their service.  It’s sometimes easy to look at the past through rose-colored glasses.  “They had it figured out,” we might think.  Or, “They had a special dose of God’s Holy Spirit.”  But when we read Paul’s letters carefully, we realize that life was as “real” for them as it is for us.  They struggled.  They became confused.  They doubted.  In the same way, church culture can sometimes seem so polished that we forget that we are also a motley collection of saved sinners.  That is precisely why the way we live out and proclaim the good news of God’s kingdom in that context makes our proclamation to a world who has not really experienced it all the more necessary, and all the more powerful.

For reflection:

  1. Prayer:  If you have a regular practice of prayer, describe it.  If not, what kind of practice could you begin this week?
  2. Saltiness: In what ways can you help shape the culture’s perception of Jesus’ people in the way you live a “salty” life?
  3. Growing: Since we’re all saved sinners, our lives are a process of growing into the people God created us to be.  What destructive tendencies is God calling you to leave behind?  What life-giving gifts has God given you that God is calling you to embrace?  How can this letting go and embracing enable you to proclaim the good news of God’s kingdom?

Want to read ahead for this Sunday?  Check out Colossians 4:7-17.

Many blessings,

MM

The Christ Familia

This week we looked at one of the more controversial passages in Colossians. But context is key and Paul is skillfully subverting the foundations of the Roman Familia. If you are a Christian – the true authority of the family is Jesus himself. And if in the Roman Familia the Father has all the power, Paul is saying not so in the Christian home, because Jesus is the true master. Paul is walking a fine line here. He takes one of the most basic Roman institutions and reshapes it around Jesus, who rules the family with self-giving love. So, while Paul doesn’t critique the Roman house structure outright, he speaks to the reality that Jesus, Messiah, demands that it be transformed, almost beyond any recognition for any Roman living in Colossae. It is the Christ Familia. A family ordered by the lordship of Jesus Christ.
 
So you can only imagine how this speaks to us now. If the Christian household is different… if Paul is changing the status quo of how we live in our homes… what are the implications? Certainly, people are going to notice. They are going to wonder what kind of “ORDER” is provoking this? Where once there was judgment and fear, now there is grace and peace. There is greater emphasis on all people as members of Gods family.
 
You know, if we are honest there is an American Familia order that exists and is often at odds with the way of Jesus. Cynthia Keesmaat and Brian Walsh in their commentary of Colossians say this: 
 
Life in America is like life in a cult. We’ve been recruited into behaviors and cultural patterns we did not consciously choose … Think of what it is you and your family chase. Is it this new order Paul speaks of… Respect, love, obey, honor, not embittering your children, doing what is fair and right? Or do you and your family chase cultural patterns you arenconsciously choose. Theygo on to say,The bulk of our population is dreaming the same dream. It’s a dream of wealth, power, fame, plenty of sex and exciting recreational activities. (Colossians Remixed by Brian J. Walsh and Sylvia C. Keesmaat.)
 
Paul is asking, “Who rules your home? Is it Christ? We are all bombarded by temptations to live the American Familia. To chase that dream of more money, recreation and power. And yet Jesus says there is not life to the fullest there… just as there wasn’t in the Roman order of familia. Life in America is often so hurried, frenzied and rushed. But Jesus calls us to slow down and be present with others and with God.
 
Many of us who have families are ordering the year ahead. Consider prioritizing the Christ Ordering which pushes back against the patterns of our culture.
 
*Regular Weekly Worship
*Daily table Fellowship with your family
*Weekly table Fellowship with other families
*Rest and weekly Sabbath
*Self-giving love exhibited to neighbor and friend. 
Blessings,
Pastor Aaron

Old Self, No Self, New Self

Colossians 3:5-17

“Put to death!”

That’s a pretty strong way to make one’s point, don’t you think?

Most of us don’t think of being in life-or-death situations all that often.  There are exceptions, of course.  Professions like police and military create more life-or-death situations than others, perhaps.  Also, people struggling with illness or injury, or people in certain violent areas of the country or world think about their life or death, to be sure.

But how often do we think about our spiritual life as one of “life or death?”  Paul puts it in those terms.  In Colossians 2 and 3, he reminds those who are in Christ that they “have died with Christ” and have also been “raised with Christ.”  Now here, he exhorts us “put to death” that which leads to death, while “clothing ourselves” with that which leads to life.

There are three essential sections to this passage: Old Self, No Self, and New Self.

  1. Old Self.  Before one finds life in Christ, one’s earthly self is perhaps all that matters to them.  The problem is that the earthly self has an insatiable appetite, which is why feeding it alone eventually reveals itself to be a futile exercise.
  2. No Self.  Of course Paul doesn’t deny our existence or even our individuality.  But his language in verse 11 is specific: “there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.”  The labels we inherit from our earthly cultures are made null and void in Christ.
  3. New Self.  Therefore, we are able to live out Christ’s virtues (compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, and love) freely, without fear and without the futile motivation of serving our own needs.

In other words, because Christ is all, and is in all, when we are poured out for others’ sake as he was, he fills us with the fullness of his own life (see Col. 2:9-10)!

For reflection:

  1. What aspects of your “old self” are you ready to “put to death.”
  2. What aspects of your “old self” would you rather not let go of?
  3. What labels do you carry?  How does finding your identity in Christ set you free of those labels?
  4. Of the behaviors Paul lists in vv. 12-17, which do you find easy?  Which do you find difficult?  How can these more difficult virtues guide you in your prayer life?

Many blessings,

MM

Raised with Christ

Colossians 3:1-4

Where we “set our minds” is of the utmost importance!  When we live with and for Jesus, the reality of the Kingdom of God becomes clearer and clearer to us.  But this is no pie-in-the-sky pining away for utopia.  It’s not about letting our imaginations conjure a fantasy we wished we were living in.  It’s an acknowledgement and daily awareness of a reality that at one time we could not see, but in Christ we begin to see.

The first two chapters of Colossians focus largely on “what is true.”  In chapter 3, we see Paul turning the corner to the always-important question: “What does this mean for our lives?”

Having established that “you died with Christ” (2:20), Paul begins here with the encouragement that having died, we are also raised with Christ.  And that means new life in every facet.  We have new identities, new spiritual family, new purpose, and of course, new vision.  It was this kind of “kingdom vision” that set apart all the great ancestors of the faith, described in Hebrews 11.

For reflection:

  1. If the Kingdom of God were fulfilled today, what would it look like?  Use your imagination!
  2. Read Isaiah 61:1-4.  Take some time to visualize how the Messiah, Jesus, can transform people’s lives.
  3. Pray: what is God calling you toward, as God builds his Kingdom in this world through you, Christ’s body the Church?

Many blessings,

MM